Pakistani Kashmiri militants now fighting NATO forces - Middle East Transparent

Pakistani Kashmiri militants now fighting NATO forces

Friday 18 September 2009

LAHORE: The reported death of the ameer of the Azad Kashmir chapter of the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI) Commander Ilyas Kashmiri in a US drone attack has confirmed that the trouble-stricken Waziristan region has become the new battlefield for the Kashmiri militant groups which are increasingly joining forces with the pro-Taliban elements to fight out the NATO troops from Afghanistan.

International media reports have confirmed while citing US intelligence sources the death of the HUJI leader Ilyas Kashmiri along with Nazimuddin Zalalov alias Yahyo, a top al-Qaeda leader belonging to the Islamic Jehad of Uzbekistan. Both died in two separate drone attacks conducted on September 7 and September 14, 2009 respectively by the Afghanistan-based American drones in the Machikhel and Khushali Toori Khel villages of the Mir Ali sub division of North Waziristan. Ilyas Kashmiri died after the predator targeted a car carrying five suspected militants in Khushali Toori Khel village.

Ilyas Kashmiri was considered to be one of the most dangerous al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani commanders. No. 4 on the Pakistani Ministry of Interior’s Most Wanted list, Kashmiri was a veteran of the Kashmir jehad who had spent several years in an Indian jail after being arrested from Jammu & Kashmir. While the Pakistan chapter of HUJI is led by Qari Saifullah Akhtar, its Azad Kashmir chapter, which is autonomous, was headed by Ilyas Kashmiri. He was arrested by the Pakistani authorities after the December 2003 twin suicide attacks on General Musharraf’s presidential cavalcade in Rawalpindi, but released in February 2004 due to lack of evidence. However, according to the Pakistani militant circles, Kashmiri was released upon the intervention of the United Jehad Council (UJC), a conglomerate of Pakistan-based pro-Kashmir militant organisations, led by Commander Syed Salahuddin.

After being released, Kashmiri switched from the freedom struggle in Jammu Kashmir to the Taliban-led resistance against the NATO forces in Afghanistan and shifted his base to the Waziristan region to join hands with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by Commander Baitullah Mehsud. He had later established a training camp in the Razmak area of Waziristan and shifted most of his militants from his Kotli training camp in Azad Kashmir. In May 2009, Ilyas Kashmiri was accused of plotting the assassination of the Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, in collusion with al-Qaeda, largely because of the COAS’s lead role in the ongoing war against terrorism. General Ashfaq Kayani’s daily visits to a gymnasium were reportedly tracked by an al-Qaeda cell in Pakistan, and it was decided that he would be targeted by a suicide bomber as soon as he would step out of his car. However, the plan could not be materialized after being leaked out to the intelligence agencies.

Hardly two few weeks before Ilyas was accused of conspiring to target Kayani, he was named in a charge sheet filed by the Islamabad police in the November 2008 gruesome murder of Major General (retd) Amir Faisal Alvi, the former General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG). The 12-page charge sheet submitted in an anti-terrorism court on May 12, 2009 had stated that the former SSG commanding officer was killed to avenge the role he had played in the fight against Taliban linked militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The charge-sheet prepared by the Koral police station said three people involved in the assassination and already arrested included Major (retd) Haroon Ashiq, a resident of Azad Kashmir; Mohammad Nawaz Khan of Peshawar and Ashfaq Ahmed of Okara. According to the charge, Alvi’s murder was carried out on the instructions of Ilyas Kashmiri who had also provided funds and weapons.

The charge sheet pointed out that Ilyas Kashmiri had already been named by the intelligence agencies for involvement in the October 2008 kidnapping for ransom of Satish Anand, a Karachi-based renowned film producer and distributor and the uncle of Juhi Chawla, a well known Bollywood actress. After Satish Anand was finally recovered in April 2009 and the kidnappers arrested, it transpired during subsequent interrogations that one of them, Major (retd) Haroon Ashiq alias Abu Khattab, was a former officer of the Pakistan Army and involved in the November 19, 2008 murder of Amir Faisal Alvi. According to the murder charge sheet, on the day of the assassination, the three accused – Haroon, Ashfaq and Nawaz - followed General Alvi when he left his residence in Bharia Town in Rawalpindi for his private office in Islamabad and killed him along with his driver near the PWD Colony.

The retired army officer’s disclosures about the links and the activities of Ilyas Kashmiri sent a chill of fear down the spine of his interrogators. Haroon Ashiq, 44, was commissioned in the Pakistan Army in 1987 in the 76 PMA Long Course. However, he sought premature retirement as a major in 2001. Hailing from Panjeri in district Bhimbar, Major Haroon was a resident of the Taj Bagh locality in Harbanspura, Lahore. According to his interrogators, in 2000 Haroon, then an army officer, along with his younger brother (Captain Khurram, also an army officer), met Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the chief operational commander of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and eventually joined the militant group after getting premature retirement from the army. He used to work as a trainer of the LeT fighters. However, he had to leave the LeT in December 2003 after having developed differences with commander Lakhvi.

Major (retd) Haroon further told his interrogators that his younger brother Capt Khurram, who served in the elite Special Services Group, also left the army in 2003 to join the LeT. However, he also quit the LeT and joined him. In December 2006, Haroon and his brother went to Wana where they met Taliban commander Mullah Nazir. They later traveled to Miramshah in Waziristan, met Commander Ilyas Kashmiri and finally joined hands with him. In 2007, Haroon’s brother Khurram went to Afghanistan’s Helmand province to fight against the NATO forces and eventually lost his life in March 2007 while fighting alongside the Taliban.

According to Major (retd) Haroon, he was told by Ilyas Kashmiri in early 2008 that the militant cadres were facing financial problems and were in dire need of funds. In a bid to ease out financial problems, Kashmiri tasked him to raise funds by kidnapping affluent people living in urban areas to claim ransom money. And Satish Anand subsequently became the first influential person to be abducted from Karachi. Major (retd) Haroon’s interrogators say Commander Kashmiri also ordered the execution of Major General Amir Faisal Alvi, for the lead role he had played during the Angor Adda operation against the Taliban militants in 2004. Ilyas Kashmiri had reportedly paid Rs125, 000 to Haroon Ashiq for killing Major General Alvi.

The Pakistani authorities say the militants belonging to Ilyas Kashmiri’s HUJI and Commander Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP had jointly carried out several major terrorist operations in different parts of Pakistan besides sponsoring the multi-pronged suicide attack against government and security installations in Khost, the eastern province of Afghanistan, before the Afghan presidential elections. Kashmiri’s Harkatul Jehadul Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkatul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and a few other Pakistani militant groups are believed to be operating under the name of Brigade 313 to carry out joint terrorist operations. Brigade 313 has been behind many of the high-profile attacks and bombings inside Pakistan.